“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world… would do this, it would change the earth.” .William Faulkner
My dad tells the story of when he was a freshman in college. One day in class – I forget which subject – at a state university, the professor asked if anyone in the room believed in absolute truth. He raised his hand, and when he looked around, he realized he was the only one. That was in the early 1970s. I can only imagine the courage it would take a student now to dare do such a thing.
What is truth? Why, it’s whatever you want it to be! If it feels good, do it! Speak YOUR truth. How liberating. How destructive.
Nietzsche called truth “a mobile army of metaphors.” For him, there were no facts, “only interpretations.” He claimed “truth is merely the final illusion” and denied eternal facts and absolute truths. Many of his ideas are the foundations of postmodern thought, which denies the efficacy of language to express truth, which is part of the reason why “if it feels good, do it” moral relativism and speaking“your truth” (something so-called fact-checkers seem to enjoy doing) are so present in both vernacular and practice in today’s Western culture.
Facts are objective. People are subjective. There’s truth. And there’s not-truth. Not-truth is also known as lies. We’ll get back to those.
Ideas have consequences. Take, for example, the scholarship of Theodore Dalrymple (pen name of retired English doctor and psychiatrist Anthony Malcolm Daniels), a current fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His practical experience working in several poor sub-Saharan African, Asian and Latin American countries, in London’s East End – well-known for its gross poverty, overcrowding, and their assorted, associated societal ills – and with the mentallyill and criminals in an inner-city Birmingham hospital and prison, gave him unique insight into the underclass of different cultures. Dalrymple wrote in “Life at the Bottom” – a series of 20 essays written during the 1990s while working in Birmingham – on the woes of the English underclass. His critiques, based on the empirical insights gained from treating thousands of patients, pull no punches in nailing who he holds accountable for the corruption apparent in England in particular, and in the West in general.
“The climate of moral, cultural, and intellectual relativism – a relativism that began as a mere fashionable plaything for intellectuals – has been successfully communicated to those least able to resist its devastating practical effects,” Dalrymple wrote. Despite the fact that they are not poor in the historical sense nor oppressed politically, “the mental, cultural, emotional, and spiritual impoverishment of the Western underclass is the greatest of any large group of people I have ever encountered anywhere.”
In another chapter, Dalrymple connects blame-shifting, the abdication of personal responsibility, and the exchange of personal freedom for security to “legions of social workers, therapists and helpers whose income and careers depend crucially on the supposed incapacity of large numbers of people to fend for themselves or behave reasonably. Without the supposed powerlessness of drug addicts, burglars, and others in the face of their own undesirable inclinations, there would be nothing for the professional redeemers to do. They have a vested interest in psychopathology, and their entire therapeutic world view of the patient as the passive, helpless victim of illness legitimizes the very behavior from which they are to redeem him. Indeed, the tangible advantages to the wrongdoer of appearing helpless are now so great that he needs but little encouragement to do so.”
Aye, the abandonment of objective truth in favor of moral relativism. The wink-wink agreement that “It’s not your fault; society (or alcoholism or drug addiction or a host of oppressors) caused you do this thing that’s harming both society and yourself. You can’t help it; you need (state intervention and support).” Poof. Accountability is gone; control is usurped from the individual and passed to the collective.
“Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important.” Again Sowell, noting the very roots of social justice, multiculturalism, political correctness and other Marxist ideas dressed up in different outfits.
Isn’t that the truth as told to us by politicians, actors, entertainers, and talking heads, who convey the messages with such sincerity. Virtue signaling is all the rage; it mixes well with a sense of moral superiority. Indeed, Dalrymple blames the misery of the Western underclass on “the propagation of bad, trivial, and often insincere ideas. Much of the wretchedness of that reality is to be laid at the feet of the ‘intellectuals.’” He decries those who “considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas. I know of no egoism more profound.”
Ideas have consequences and “Rhetoric is no substitute for reality.” That again is Sowell, the noted economist and social theorist, now 88 and retired but still a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His plain-spoken honesty and candor on to welfare economics, race relations, politics, history, education, and child development is refreshing. An orphan, high school dropout (due to family difficulties), former Brooklyn Dodgers tryout, and U.S. Marine during the Korean War, after the war, Sowell graduated from Harvard, got his master’s a year later from Columbia, and his doctorate from the University of Chicago.
He noted, “As a young Marxist in college during the 1950s heyday of the anti-Communist crusade led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, I had more freedom to express my views in class, without fear of retaliation, than conservative students have on many campuses today.”
That says a lot. Where has free speech gone? When did language become oppression? Michel Foucault would be proud.
Around 1960 while working for the federal government, Sowell became disillusioned with socialism and convinced it could never work in real life; he’s espoused free markets and supply-side economics for nearly 60 years now.Indeed, in a 2015 column, Sowell wrote, “Socialism sounds great. It has always sounded great. And it will probably always continue to sound great. It is only when you go beyond rhetoric, and start looking at hard facts, that socialism turns out to be a big disappointment, if not a disaster.”
In his book, “A Conflict of Ideas” Sowell explains how the real problem of socialism is its flawed worldview. The Stream’s Joe Carter articulates Sowell’s ideas:
An unconstrained vision — the “vision of the anointed” — is predicated on certain fixed ideas:
• Human nature is essentially good, and thus
• Human capability is vast for the self-appointed “anointed” (e.g., technocrats, central planners). • Social problems have solutions.
• Freedom is the ability to achieve the goals of
• Justice requires the equalization of chances or
• Knowledge consists of the articulated intelligence of the more educated few.
• Specialization is highly questionable.
• The preferred mechanism for decision-making
is deliberate plans that utilize the special talents
and more advanced views of the few.
In contract, the constrained vision — the
“tragic vision” — is predicated on the tragedy of
the human condition, that is, the “inescapable
fate inherent in the nature of things.” We learn
from the tragic vision that:
• Human nature is not inherently good, and
certainly not perfectible.
• Human capability is severely and inherently
limited for all.
• Social problems often have trade-offs, not
solutions, which leave many needs unmet.
• Freedom is the exemption from the power of
• Justice refers to process rules with just characteristics. • Knowledge consists largely of the unarticulated experiences of the many.
• Specialization is highly desirable.
• The preferred mechanism for decision-making
is systematic processes that convey the experiences and revealed preferences of the many.
When outlined in this way, it becomes clear that
socialism is a prime example of an unconstrained
vision while free enterprise is based on
a constrained vision.
In the unconstrained vision, people who don’t agree with “the anointed,” who believe in individual freedom and personal responsibility instead of identity politics and such, are the enemies of the self-appointed surrogate decision-makers for society. Just take a look at whom is demonized today to see this vision in practice. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw a fact-free “facecrime” straight out of the pages of “1984.” The banning of books like “Little House on the Prairie” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huck Finn” is a step or two away from “Fahrenheit 451.”
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” That quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, though it is not found in any of his writings. He did write in his autobiography that, “The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. … How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”
A quote often wrongly attributed to Churchill observes the effectiveness of a lie. It’s found long before Churchill in a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon, who said in 1855, “If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.’”
There is nothing new under the sun, for Spurgeon was paraphrasing the idea put forth by Jonathan Swift in 1710: “Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…”
If that’s not an applicable statement to the media climate today, I don’t know what is. Spread the chosen narrative first, check the facts later, justify falsehoods. People will believe the lie; the outrage mob will consume the target with hate and move on to the next victim.
Sowell said, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” A lot of people get told what they want to hear and won’t hear of anything else.
The truth is vitally important; without it there can be no morality, only the shifting sands of “your truth.” Jesus told a parable of a wise man who built his house upon the rock, while the foolish man built his upon sand. When the storm came, the wise man’s house stood firm, for its foundation was the rock, whereas the foolish man’s house fell with a great crash. Food for thought.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Until next time…
Brian Miller is a longtime local writer who lives with his wife Bethany and puppy Case in Eveleth, MN. He welcomes glowing accolades and scathing reviews at email@example.com. He can be found on Facebook at Out of the Blue: Brian Daniel Miller.